WHEN his career in sales went belly-up, Glanmire-based Ken Roche wondered what he could work at.
It was, he says, a choice between working with dogs, selling gelato or coffees.
He opted to make a living grooming dogs, which involved investing in a franchise, and he says it’s one of the best decisions he ever made.
Ken, a 50-year-old father-of-four, worked in sales for 30 years and thoroughly enjoyed it up until recently.
“I liked meeting people and trying to better myself. I’m very competitive and am always trying to push something,” he says.
Starting off in the electrical wholesale industry, he specialised in selling lighting after a while, covering the south of Ireland.
Then, in 2007, Ken set up his own business, The Light Gallery in Midleton. That lasted for three and a half years.
“The timing wasn’t great,” he admits. “It worked for a few years but it started to go downhill rapidly because of the recession.
“But I bounced back again and got into sales in the electrical industry because I had experience in that. I built up a customer base.”
However, the nature of sales work changed, becoming tougher.
“When Covid came on the scene, you couldn’t go out to meet people. You were bound to a desk,” says Ken. “Instead of face-to-face meetings, there were Zoom calls. But the Cork thing is to meet people and have a bit of banter and then get down to sales.
“When I think of the English and European countries, it’s straight in selling. But the Irish attitude is to have a chat first and see how things are going.
“For nearly the last 30 years, I was travelling the country. But in the past two years, because of Covid, it’s just not the same. I wasn’t enjoying it any more. I hated going to work. It all had to be done over the phone or by email. You didn’t have the same rapport.
“You put down the phone and someone else is ringing the same person. It was very difficult. I wasn’t the only one that felt like that. Other people were trying to get out of the sales game.”
At the best of times, sales is a challenging sector.
“You’re always under pressure to make your sale and you have the worry and stress of not making a sale.”
Ken used to “love” his job. “That all changed. Sales over the phone is hard because you don’t always have the person’s attention.
“When you’re meeting someone, you can see their reaction and call it a day if it’s not working. You can be fobbed off easily if you’re on the phone to someone.”
Forced to question a career that had served him well up until recent years, Ken saw an advertisement for a franchise for ‘dial a dog wash’. Growing up in Togher, he always had a dog.
“I wondered if dog grooming was the career for me. I decided to ring one of the franchisees (Conor Sheehan from Kerry). I had a great chat with Conor. He had been in the same line that I had been in. He kind of sold me the idea.
“So, a couple of weeks later, I joined him to see what the work was like.
"I observed him groom a dog for an hour and a half. I thought I’d like to do it. I always loved dogs but this kind of work wouldn’t have been something that I’d have thought about doing.”
Ken bought a brand new van and sent it to the UK to have it converted.
“The van is a fantastic set-up. It’s like a small ambulance.
“There’s a heated water system in it, a blow dryer, a table and a big stainless steel sink.”
Advertising on Facebook and through word-of-mouth, Ken is delighted with his new job and says it gives him an adrenaline rush.
“I’m inundated with work. Since the first lockdown, everyone wants a dog. Someone must have been looking down on me when I saw the ad for a franchise.”
Ken grooms the dogs in his van, parked outside the owners’ homes.
“It takes an hour and a half or two hours, depending on the size of the dog,” he says. “Then the dog goes back home, clipped, groomed and smelling gorgeous.
“I haven’t had any bad experiences with the dogs. There’s two types of aggressiveness in a dog. They’re either nervous of the machine or the clippers or they’re naturally aggressive.
“If a dog is aggressive by nature, it’s not for me. No point in getting bitten. I have to judge it as I go along.”
Dogs generally need to be groomed every six to ten weeks, Ken explains. “At Christmas, people will be looking to get their dogs done. It will be very busy.”
Growing up, he says the family dog was far from being professionally groomed.
“Long ago, to wash a dog, you’d put it in the bath. And it would then be flying around the house trying to dry itself on the carpet.”
Now, in his new role, Ken says it’s great to get paid “for doing something nice”.
He adds: “Conor was telling me one day that he was grooming a Labrador. He had the two back doors of the van open and was looking out on Dingle Bay, washing the dog and listening to the radio. Where else would you want to be?”
Looking ahead, Ken hopes to expand his business.
“Cork is a big county so I’d hope to have some vans on the road in time.”
The old adage is true; it’s a dog’s life!
Dial a dog wash Cork is on Facebook.